One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus
At 3pm, five teenagers at an American High school enter afternoon detention together. But, by 3:25pm, only four of them are able to walk out of the room. The fifth is rushed to hospital where they soon die.
The death brings police interrogations, tactless news reporters and a flurry of rumours, with the obvious suspects being the characters who were in detention when the ‘incident’ happened. Readers follow the story of each of these main characters in turn, and we soon learn that each of them has a secret… But which secret is worth killing for in order to keep it hidden?
One of Us is Lying, on the surface, seems very cliché, with the cover alone causing me to wonder whether I was reading the book version of hit 1985 film The Breakfast Club, where five teenagers from very different walks of life find themselves in detention together, just as they do in One of Us is Lying. However, unlike The Breakfast Club, in the opening scene one of the five characters dies, presumably murdered.
The main characters may all be obvious stereotypes—a geek, a jock, a criminal, a princess—but each character grew and developed as I read, rising high above the label they had been branded with and breaking free of any stereotypical boxes they had initially been dumped in. One character in particular, who I dismissed straight off as being one so bland that I wouldn’t enjoy reading about them, actually had such a powerful and thought-provoking arc that by the time I finished the book they had become my favourite character.
I found this novel to be all-consuming and, even at the times I wasn’t reading it, my mind was working back through all the character details and pondering who would have benefitted the most from the death while also considering which of them was sly and smart enough to pull it all off.
The main characters had revelations in working through personal dilemmas via support from friends, families, and their own self-confidence and self-esteem, which is one very big reason why One of Us is Lying is a triumph of a YA novel. Each character also has a very different background in terms of upbringings, wealth, education, beliefs and moral codes. Many topics that teenagers simply feel they cannot communicate with parents about are confronted, such as the consequences of drug use (both recreational and to enhance sporting performance), the dangers of the internet, family dynamics, depression, self-harm, suicide, peer-pressure, underage sex, and the benefits of true friendship over the superficial kind.
It also conveys two very importance messages. The first is the importance of open communication, whether with friends, peers, parents or teachers, and the negative outcomes of keeping feelings bottled up. The second is the importance of self-respect and understanding your own feelings. It highlights how people as a whole, mainly at school but also in general, hold what others think of us in much higher esteem than of which we think of ourselves.
I would recommend this novel to all teenagers irrespective of gender, since it follows two male and two female first-person perspectives—something that took me a while to get used to but, as the characters developed, their voices slowly ingrained in my mind, allowing me to envision the scenes as they unfolded.
This story also offers up a little romance with an unlikely relationship developing between two of the ‘witnesses’ as the book unfolds; a relationship that, once I had finished the book, had me wishing there was another chapter or two so that I could see how things turned out for them.
If you enjoyed reading 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, loved the cult classic film The Breakfast Club and were engrossed by American TV series One Tree Hill, the you should read this book.
© 2018 Rebecca Delphine
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Rebecca Delphine is a Young Adult author from Thanet.